The Walking Dead's Season Eight midseason premiere, "Honor", airs at 9/8c tonight on AMC. The landmark episode will be available to watch online via the official AMC website after its network debut.
Resolving December's massive episode-ending cliffhanger — Carl Grimes lifted his shirt to reveal a fatal walker bite, dooming him to die — "Honor" sends off the longtime survivor and actor Chandler Riggs, who has been with the series since its 2010 pilot.
Riggs, who admitted he "didn't ever expect for Carl to ever get killed off," said the teen's untimely demise "serves a good purpose in the story."
"There's still a little more left in Carl's story — in episode nine — and that impacts Rick, Michonne and everyone," Riggs said. "Although Carl's story is coming to an end, it's not over yet."
The 18-year-old actor promised the young Grimes is "definitely leaving behind a really long-lasting legacy."
Carl's journey ends tonight, but his tragic death will serve as a major propulsion point in the series moving forward.
Carl's looming death is "one of the hardest deaths" the series has ever had, showrunner Scott M. Gimple told Variety, adding it's also "a really important story with an important message."
“It’s an unbelievable tragedy to see this character go," Gimple added, "but his death is not the end of his story."
Gimple — who has since been promoted to oversee the entire Walking Dead brand for AMC, handing his position as showrunner over to writer Angela Kang — said the loss of Carl will have a long lasting effect on the characters as the series moves into the future.
“It’s nuclear in how it affects the characters, how it affects the story, how it affects their world moving forward,” Gimple noted.
“The death of this character, this young hero… it creates the last sort of conversation of who these people are going to be and how they’re going to move into the future," Gimple said. "It might be very tragic. It might be very hopeful. It might be somewhere in between. Not all the characters are going to respond the same way, and the tragedy itself makes it very difficult to hear Carl’s words and to act on them in a way that he wants.”
Leading man Andrew Lincoln, who plays Rick Grimes, said Carl's death is a major deviation from Kirkman's ongoing comic book series, where Carl is a major player and the second most important character after now semi-retired Alexandrian leader Rick.
“As soon as it happened, all bets were off,” Lincoln told EW.
“Because there had been a certain sense, I think, over the last couple of years, that people would go, ‘Oh, we are much more associated with the comic book.’ I think that the general thrust of the story was always going to be based upon that with a couple of deviations or inversions or twists or replacements in one character taking that story and this one taking that."
The death of Rick's son is the biggest wrench thrown in the gears yet, and Lincoln says it sends the long-running series into "unchartered waters."
"I think it made, certainly for me, a much more challenging and more dangerous back eight [episodes]," Lincoln explained. "I think what they’re having to do is shake it up, in a profoundly new way.”
“The back half [of the season] is him trying to live through the unbelievable pain, in the middle of a war, and trying to reconcile this loss with what he’s fighting for,” Lincoln told EW. “This is his worst nightmare being realized.”
"This is bigger than any other death that we've ever had and we realize that as it plays out in the back eight," Lincoln explained. "The back eight is completely different from the front eight. This episode happens and everything changes. We spin off into a completely different new world."
Actress Danai Gurira, who plays katana-wielding zombie slayer and Carl's mother-like figure Michonne, opened up about the loss of Carl and actor Chandler Riggs — saying the departure left her "devastated."
"Everything she and Rick do is to protect Carl, so this is kind of the worst nightmare realized for him to reveal [the bite] at the end of the last episode,” Gurira told the Huffington Post.
“These are very resourceful people who do everything they can. Rick and Michonne don’t really stop easily. What do you do when that’s what you’re facing? So, yeah, I was devastated. Michonne was devastated.”
"Honor" director and series producer Greg Nicotero wants you to emotionally prepare for Carl's goodbye.
"I think it’s one of our most powerful episodes that we’ve ever produced,” Nicotero told EW. “When I watched the first cut of this episode, tears were coming out of my eyes 20 minutes into it.”
The series veteran, who has seen his fair share of cast members and their characters exit the show, said "it's never easy."1comments
“It’s never easy because you can never really understand what they’re going through. There’s never really anything you can say that will make them feel better. You just really, really want to make sure that they have an opportunity to show people what their character was made of."
The Walking Dead 8x09, "Honor," airs tonight at 9/8c on AMC.